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MI -- The Miami Marlins are obviously much better than this, the "this" being their last six games. Then again, the Chicago Cubs are probably better than "this," too.
It's just that there is some shock value attached to this particular club slumping at this particular time. Six games ago, the Marlins were in first place in the tough NL East and coming off a splendid 21-8 May. They were rolling along, obviously headed for even better things.
And, the Fish were coming home for a nice, long, nine-game homestand. Then the extremely rosy outlook ran into the Atlanta Braves and the Tampa Bay Rays, two very good clubs playing very well. The next six games added up to six losses and this:
Opponents 43, Marlins 10. Ouch.
"[The Rays] did everything better than we did all weekend," Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said of the three-game sweep by Tampa Bay. "They played good, they pitched, they executed. They got big hits, huge hits, and we didn't.
"Atlanta played better than us and the Rays played better than us. It's something that you can do nothing about. The only thing you can do is just try to get better for the next series and forget about what happened in this series.
"It's kind of weird how [well] we play one week, and then the next week we play very bad. I don't know if you can say that's part of the game, or that's the way baseball is, or that's the kind of team we have. Meanwhile, you're kind of surprised. You play very well for a month, then it's like you lost the touch, or you lost the big pitch, or you lost the big RBIs. Hopefully, we turn this thing around and start playing better."
The time for that would be immediately, as in Monday night, the opener of a three-game series against Boston at Marlins Park. The Red Sox were just swept themselves in a three-game series at home. The bad news for the Marlins in that development was that the Red Sox were swept by the Washington Nationals, who are currently atop the National League East, now five games ahead of the Marlins.
No portion of the Marlins' game has worked particularly well during this latest stretch. During the Interleague series against the Rays, for instance, the Marlins left 13 runners on base in the opener Friday night. Rays pitchers walked eight batters, which generally is a ticket to disaster, but the Marlins refused to seize the multitude of opportunities given them in a 5-1 loss.
Saturday night, the Marlins got a completely atypical start from Carlos Zambrano, who had been their most consistent starter this season. Zambrano gave up seven runs in 2 1/3 innings before departing with a stiff lower back. Miami fans were able to amuse themselves during what became a 13-4 loss, but that was by keeping track of the Miami Heat's eventual victory over the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the NBA's Easter Conference finals.
Sunday, the Marlins could do little against Rays starter James Shields. The Marlins finally scored one run against Shields in the seventh, and managed to bring the tying run to the plate with one out in a 4-1 game. But they were stopped by reliever Jake McGee. The Marlins subsequently nicked Rays reliever Joel Peralta for one run but could not score against closer Fernando Rodney, and Tampa Bay finished on top, 4-2.
So far, the Marlins have had a streaky side. They had a six-game losing streak in April, the terrific May, and now another six-game skid. This is not the formula for long-term success in an unforgiving division that appears to contain five genuine challengers.
Searching for positives Sunday, there was the return to the Miami lineup of Logan Morrison who appeared to have left a slump behind him, with three hits, including two doubles.
But as Guillen cautioned "Baseball is about how long you can be good. It's not about one day. We need [Morrison] to protect [Giancarlo] Stanton and stay there."
The last six games aside, the Marlins are clearly good enough to contend. Their starting pitching has enough quality to keep them in the race, and with closer Heath Bell back on track, they should be able to avoid the kind of late losses than can be debilitating to a contender.
The Marlins may not have as much run-production depth as they had hoped for in their lineup, but the track records of their regular players indicate that this situation is also not in the category of hopeless.
The discouraging development for the Marlins is that they might have thought after May that a corner had permanently been turned. Well, not completely, as it turns out. But this is still a talented team that, forgetting the last week, should be on the rise. And playing in the wonderful, new, visually striking, climate-controlled Marlins Park ought to keep everybody's morale up, even through the occasional six-game losing streak.